Shortcomings of the Roman Catholic Apologetic Method

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  • Shortcomings of the Roman Catholic Apologetic Method

Matthew Cserhati, M.A. student at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary

Email: csmatyi1@gmail.com

Introduction

When confronting another religion, Christianity seeks to vindicate its world- and life view over and against the other religion. Either the entire system of the Christian theistic worldview is true, or it is not. It is not just possibly or probably true, not even just the most probable worldview among many. Christian apologetics makes the bold assertion that “We know God” via His supernatural revelation. Therefore, all other religions are called to repent. Such is our stance against Roman Catholicism. This is why we cannot accommodate any kind of ecumenical compromise with this religion.

Using Christian apologetics, we may also analyze the apologetic arsenal of Roman Catholicism itself. Roman Catholic apologetics is internally inconsistent, therefore implying that the Roman Catholic worldview itself is also inconsistent and thus contradictory, and thus not valid. In the following paper we will analyze the elements of the Roman Catholic apologetic system, and show where it is inconsistent.

Rome Twists the Relationship of Man with God Before and After the Fall

In order to analyze any kind of apologetic system it is essential to describe how it views sin, and the Fall into sin, since it is fundamental to the Christian worldview. Every single cult has an incorrect view of both authority (some human element added to Scripture), but also of sin and man’s relationship with God. This is very true of Roman Catholicism.

Figure 1 depicts the correct view of the relationship between God and man in the Garden of Eden. There existed a clear dual distinction between the infinite, omnipotent, omniscient triune Creator God with man as a finite, dependent creature under Him. Whatever knowledge man had, ha received it via supernatural revelation. There is nothing that man found out by himself outside of God’s knowledge. Truly, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of all knowledge”.[1] All facts and evidence had their origin with God, since God organized them into a whole system. Facts are not independent by themselves.

What was the essence of the temptation of the devil? He tempted Eve in the following way, by saying “For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.”[2] In this way, the devil, the father of lies[3], tempted Adam and Eve to undo the dual distinction between themselves and God, by autonomously knowing what is good and what is evil. By doing so, they mixed up the dual distinction between themselves and God. As such, they now wanted themselves to be the arbiters of final truth, as is so characteristic of all rationalistic ideologies, such as materialism, liberalism or atheism.

The effects of the Fall into sin were immediate, profound, and terrible. Man lost his relationship with God, and died a spiritual death[4]. Furthermore, man was corrupted in his whole nature. His will, emotions and his mind were all affected. He found that he did not know all that is good and evil, and the devil’s words turned out to be just a nasty, horrible deception.

Rome Exalts Man at the Expense of God

The fundamental problem with Rome’s apologetical position, but also with its worldview is that it wants to retain autonomy over and against the all-knowing, all-powerful God. This stems from its faulty anthropology, which is based in the theology of Thomas Aquinas, which in turn itself is based in the pagan Greek philosophy of Aristotle and Plato. Rome’s hamartiology superficially may seem biblical, but when examined more closely, it contains a fatal error.

Namely, Rome teaches that originally, man was created earthly in part, and also received a bonum superadditum, an extra good quality that allowed him to grasp and understand supernatural revelation. Man lost this extra good after the Fall. However, this implies that man’s original constitution was imperfect, thereby necessitating the addition of this bonum superadditum, in contradiction that God declared everything that He had created “very good” on the sixth day of creation[5],[6]. This process can be seen in Figure 2. From this it follows that in his fallen state the natural man is still capable of attaining some sort of true knowledge about God and the world. Therefore, the catechism of the Roman Catholic Church states that “…it [human nature] is wounded in the natural powers proper to it”[7].

As opposed to this, the Bible teaches that the wages of sin is death[8], that we are dead in our transgressions[9], in our trespasses and sins[10]. In other words, man cannot relate to God spiritually, because he is in open rebellion against his Creator. “Because that, when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.”[11]

Rome’s Apologetic Rests on Assumptions Outside of God’s Word

The previous ideas all mean that despite clear Biblical testimony, Roman Catholicism says that man in his natural state after the Fall is capable of ascertaining truths about the world, and also about God. In other words, man can determine truth without the Scriptures. All truth is God’s truth, according to Rome. This concept is not only permitted by Roman Catholic theology, but it is absolutely necessary for Rome to introduce its own tradition, in denial of the principle of Sola Scriptura. Such truths which are easily perceived by all are brute facts, which supposedly obviously present themselves.

Based on its incorrect anthropology, Rome then claims that in argumentation with non-believers, there exists a common ground of understanding, or a set of truths that both the Christian (or Roman Catholic) and the non-believer can suppose as being true. For example, Roman Catholic bioethicists encourage Christians to use arguments coming from general revelation to persuade non-believers about Christian ethics[12].

According to the famous presuppositional apologetic, Cornelius van Til, Rome’s method of apologetics is akin to constructing a two-story building, in a step-by-step manner. According to this method, the Roman Catholic, working together with the unbeliever make plans for the first story of a two-story building. First, the base is laid down. This corresponds in some cases as proofs for God’s existence. However, when building the second story of the building, the Roman Catholic wishes to change the style of the building so that it would be more in line with Roman Catholic beliefs (i.e., belief in the saints, purgatory). At this point, the Roman Catholic must realize that he is inconsistent, and that the unbeliever will want to continue the building using his own unbelieving philosophy of autonomous reason, independent of God.

We see the results of this kind of pseudo-apologetic in Rome’s engagement in syncretism, theistic evolution and the Intelligent Design movement. It is as if though Rome is embarrassed to uphold the glory of Jesus Christ and the authority of the Bible. In syncretism, for example, pope John Paul II claims that [Muslims] profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind’s judge on the last day[13].

Pope Francis also promotes theistic evolution and ridicules six-day creationists. For example, he says “When we read about Creation in Genesis, we run the risk of imagining God was a magician, with a magic wand able to do everything. But that is not so [emphasis added].”[14] This way pope Francis makes himself out to be nothing less than an atheist.

Furthermore, many in the Intelligent Design movement are Roman Catholic, such as the biochemist Michael Behe. While these scientists produce useful research in providing evidence for the existence for God, the product of their research is still underwhelming. Intelligent Design does not prove the entire system of Christian theism, as opposed to six-day creation science, which is based on the book of Genesis. For this reason, not only are Christians involved in the Intelligent Design, but also Jews and Muslims, such as the Turkish researcher Harun Yahya. The question begs itself that once the existence of God is proven, we still have to decide which God exists, which religion is true[15]. Furthermore, since the Intelligent Design movement does not presuppose the Fall into sin as described in the book of Genesis, it does not adequately address the questions suffering, death, and disease. This denigrates God into a moral monster for using death and disease to create.

Rome Distorts the Trinity

Another key issue in Rome’s apologetic method is the question of being. If Rome undoes the distinction between the Creator and the creature as we have seen previously, then instead of this distinction, a sort of gradation of existence arises between God and man, a kind of chain of being. This strikingly resembles Plato’s demiurge who is an intermediary between the world of form and the world of the senses, between god and man, himself a created being. The demiurge is responsible for forcing form onto the world of senses, but does so imperfectly, hence the need in man for the bonum superadditum, which is necessary for him to understand God’s supernatural revelation. In this sense, the Jesus Christ of the Roman Catholic church is not be the same as Jesus Christ as presented in the Bible.

There are Roman Catholic misunderstandings of the character and person of Christ. For one, the Christ of Rome is supposedly transformed into a wafer of bread in millions of copies all over the globe in Roman Catholic churches during the idolatrous practice of the Mass. This is not the Christ of the Bible Who will come in like manner as He had been seen going into Heaven[16]. Second, Rome’s view of Christ’s deity is at times too much exalted, so as to downplay His humanity. This is a variant of the heresy of Docetism, which claimed that Jesus only seemed to have had a physical body. Docetism is a form of Gnosticism, which claims that only the spiritual substance is good, whereas physical reality is evil.

Lastly, in this chain of being the Roman Catholic priesthood takes a position above the Christian laity, since only Rome’s priesthood is supposed to be able to exclusively interpret the Bible correctly, as though if it were some sort of unknowable mystery. Furthermore, along this chain of being we have the pope, as some sort of intermediary between God and man, who judges all men but is judged by no-one, and who has some sort of peculiar insight into God’s thoughts and being when he speaks ex cathedra about faith and morals. Thus, the pope, who calls himself the vicar of Christ is the very antichrist!

Conclusion: Catholic Apologetic Method Falls Short of God’s Truth

As we can see, Rome builds her apologetic methodology on a faulty basis, in opposition to the principle of Sola scriptura, which states that the Scriptures are the sole highest authority in all questions[17]. As we can see, if we allow any kind of authority besides that of Scripture, we undo the distinction between God the Creator and man as the creature who is to accept all truth from God, instead of using his own thoughts, to augment, correct, or re-interpret God’s Word, since “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord”[18].

Rome’s apologetic, stemming from its incorrect definition of authority produce bad fruit, as we can see in its approach towards ecumenism and the doctrine of creation. Instead of a mixed apologetic which produces such bad fruit, let us have faith in Christ alone, Who is the Rock of our salvation. Let us trust in His Word alone, which is sufficient for all of our needs. Then we can have full assurance, as it says in the Gospels: “And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock”[19].


[1] Proverbs 1:7

[2] Genesis 3:15

[3] John 8:44

[4] Genesis 2:17

[5] Genesis 1:31

[6] Van Til, C. Christian Apologetics. Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., Phillipsburg, NJ, 1976, pps. 112-113.

[7] Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 405.

[8] Romans 6:23

[9] Colossians 2:13

[10] Ephesians 2:1

[11] Romans 1:21

[12] Vandrunen, D. Bioethics and the Christian Life. Crossway Books, Wheaton, IL, 2009, p. 29.

[13] Bennett, R. The Papacy and Islam. Berean Beacon website [https://bereanbeacon.org/the-papacy-and-islam/]

[14] Independent, October 28, 2014

[15] Van Til, C. The Defense of the Faith. Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., Phillipsburg, NJ, 1955, p. 220.

[16] Acts 1:11

[17] Acts 17:10-11, 1Corinthians 4:6, 2Timothy 3:16-17

[18] Isaiah 55:8

[19] Matthew 7:25